ZAKA founder and former chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav tried to end his life on Thursday at his home in Givat Zeev, Jerusalem, after many additional complaints about sexual assaults he allegedly committed had been exposed, Reshet Bet radio and other news outlets reported.
Meshi Zahav hung himself, and one of his children alerted Magen David Adom which arrived at the scene and evacuated Meshi Zahav to Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem.
The first medic at the scene said: “It was a shocking sight.”
Shaare Zedek CEO Prof. Ofer Marin commented on Meshi Zahav’s condition: “After the suicide attempt this morning, MDA personnel in the field did a very good job. They started resuscitation, which brought back his vital signs. He came to us a short time ago. He is in critical condition. Resuscitation efforts continue. They managed to resume his vital signs, but the situation is critical.”
In 2018, Yehuda Meshi Zahav was selected by the Algemeiner Journal as one of 100 people who made a positive impact on the Jewish people.
On the 2003 Independence Day, Meshi Zahav lit a torch at the torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl, as one of the founders of the ZAKA organization. He was criticized by people in the Haredi community for this, in particular for declaring, as is customary at this ceremony, “For the glory of the State of Israel.” His family denounced and boycotted him for this gesture.
Three of his sons enlisted in the IDF, two of them in combat service, in the Golani and the Paratroopers’ divisions. During the Second Lebanon War, Meshi Zahav founded the Israel Together movement, which operated volunteers who assisted residents in northern localities. During the 2014 Gaza War, he criticized the Haredi leadership, which did not participate in the funerals of IDF soldiers and did not comfort bereaved families.
A friend of Meshi Zahav told Reshet Bet about the suspicions against him: “He did not deny, he said there are things he has no control over.”
Last month, an investigation was published against Zahav Zahav, following which he gave up winning the Israel Prize and an investigation was opened against him by the police.
One of Yehuda Meshi Zahav’s neighbors told Kan 11 News: “I pray with him in the same synagogue. Last night we sat together and he was very depressed and felt bad about himself, because of the additional exposé about him that’s due to be published. They did a character assassination to him.”
Meshi Zahav’s attorney, who was the last to meet with him Wednesday night, told Kan 11 here that “he had bad days because of the publications, he was angry that he was being prosecuted by the media.”
Following the announcement of the selection of Meshi Zahav to receive the Israel Prize, Haaretz published evidence that for many years, Meshi Zahav sexually assaulted and harassed children, boys, girls, and women. Meshi Zahav denied the accusations, but suspended himself from the ZAKA leadership and waived the Israel Prize.
The police national unit for fraud investigations in Lahav 433 launched an investigation into the matter and collected testimonies from members of the ZAKA organization that assisted Haaretz reporters in preparing their report. Meshi Zahav arrived on his initiative at the unit to talk to the cops but was refused.
The Haaretz investigation, published last March, featured the testimonies of six of his alleged victims. It was alleged, however, that in practice he committed a much larger number of sexual assaults. It was further alleged that Meshi Zahav took advantage of the willingness of many ultra-Orthodox youths to volunteer for the ZAKA to sexually exploit them. Among other things, the report stated that Meshi Zahav used to reward his victims with money and gifts, as well as with sexual encounters with escort girls. According to one of the testimonies published by Haaretz, Meshi Zahav included one of his female relatives in these encounters.
Following the Haaretz report, additional testimonies against Meshi Zahav have been published in the Israeli media.